Music Festival Puts Crisfield On The Map Eastern Shore

June 27, 1993|By Audrey Haar | Audrey Haar,Staff Writer

CRISFIELDGR: PHOTO — CRISFIELD -- Those looking for country music, sunshine and Eastern Shore seafood found it all yesterday at the Tangier Sound Country Music Festival.

Tony Bruce, the festival's treasurer, reported last night that ticket sales topped 19,000, a record for the one-day event, which began on a smaller scale in 1990 with a financial pump priming from state government.

Carolyn Brown, a Baltimore-based public relations spokeswoman for the festival, earlier reported a higher figure -- "just over 22,000." What caused the discrepancy was unclear, but Mr. Bruce said his figure was based on ticket sales and police estimates.

Fans this year had to arrive early in the morning to claim the prized front-row seats to see such top-name acts as Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Brooks & Dunn.

Fred Dize of Crisfield said he arrived at 2:30 a.m. with a cooler, lawn chair and a radio to help pass the time until the gates opened at 8 a.m.

"There were about 10 or 12 people already here," Mr. Dize said. "They said they got here at midnight. I was in the front row last year, too. Now it's a tradition."

Seated near the thundering speakers was Erik Elion, who said he and his wife, Jeanne, left their home in Sherwood Forest, north of Annapolis, at 2 a.m. and arrived in Crisfield two hours later.

"There were a couple of hundred ahead of us," Mr. Elion said.

When the first performers took the stage at 12:30 p.m., the crowd was primed and ready for music.

Country music fans were scattered on a grassy slope in front of the stage. Those in the seats up front sat elbow to elbow in folding lawn chairs.

Farther from the stage, the lawn was dotted with blankets, chairs

and sun umbrellas sprung up along the periphery.

Chip Lewis, a drummer with the first group to perform, Palomino Road, said his Nashville-based group was "mobbed for autographs" at Crisfield. "Nobody is excited to see a country-music singer in Nashville," he said.

"I knew it was going to be a small town, but I didn't know the show would be this big," added Ronnie Guilbeau, the group's lead singer.

In the shade of a tent, festival-goers learned the moves to the "Boot Scootin' Boogie" by Brooks & Dunn, who were scheduled to arrive at the festival in the evening.

They also lined up shoulder to shoulder to try the Boom, which was danced to "Boom! It Was Over," by Robert Ellis Orvall.

In another tent, a park ranger from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources draped an 11-foot Burmese python over the shoulders of those seeking a respite from the sun. At 75 pounds, the 1 1/2 -year old snake was only about half-grown, the rangers said.

Children gathered in another tent to decorate cowboy hats made of a thin black rubber material. They industriously stapled, glued and colored the hats and then proudly modeled their creations.

"The festival is getting bigger every year," said Richard Ward, president of the Tangier Sound Music Festival Foundation. "It's snowballing."

To increase the seating area of the 14-acre site, the stage was moved back 300 feet this year, which created space for 10,000 more people, Mr. Ward said.

The festival started in 1990, with help from the Governor's Office of Art and Culture. The intent was to supply some money and attention for the Eastern Shore town, the center of an area hit hard in recent years by plant closings, troubles in the seafood industry and other job losses.

Mr. Ward said the festival received a $25,000 grant from the state this year and raised an additional $36,000 from corporate sponsors. Proceeds from T-shirts, ticket sales and concessions are expected to bring in an additional $50,000.

Comparable festivals are being held at Rocky Gap State Park in Western Maryland and in Fair Hill, in northeastern Maryland. Funding problems canceled the Crisfield event in 1991, but the Eastern Shore festival revived last year with attendance of about 14,000 people.

Next year, the festival will be locally controlled.

"I feel like a proud parent who says: 'You're on your own now. Call me if you need me,' " said Jody Albright, director of the Governor's Office of Art and Culture.

"The festival is good for the town and answers the question, 'Where is Crisfield?' Mr. Ward said. "We have also considered expanding to two days next year."

The community is enthusiastically supporting the festival, he said. "We have to turn away volunteers," Mr. Ward said. "We have so many people that we can't utilize them."

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